Bonanza: An islanders recount of settling in the Pacific Northwest | Guest Column

By Kimberly Mayer

San Juan Island

After her divorce, my youngest sister moved closer to the center of town. Her street is a cul-de-sac primarily of duplexes. This is where she now rents and where she has found a real neighborhood.

A small creek runs behind my sister’s house. And just beyond the homes at the end of the cul-de-sac: train tracks. Where a commuter train frequently comes whistling through, connecting ‘burbs such as hers to downtown Boston.

The sound of the train gives me comfort when I visit. Day and night it’s a type of clockwork. As in “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”, everything seems to be running on time, as it should. But I know I derive more pleasure from this than my sister, for train trips had filled our family’s earliest vacations. By the time she was born, our family was flying.

After my divorce, I flung myself out to California. The seed for that, I believe, was planted long ago on those family train trips west to explore the national parks. I will always credit the railroad for opening my world. Whether the seed was planted in me, or I left a part of myself there, I don’t know. But I came to live out west and have given it the greater part of my life.

“A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known to only that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance—to take its one and only chance to grow.

Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” — Hope Jahren, “Lab Girl”

The west calls to me with its wide open spaces and quietude. One girl’s “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”; the other girl’s “Bonanza.” In one scenario a track runs round an idyllic village on a model train table. In the other, the tracks go the distance and seemingly disappear, only to start a whole new life somewhere.

What calls people West? What makes some stay and others go? Come to think of it, “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” was always what my sister wanted. Whereas I was always pushing out.

“We are each given one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable.”

I recently recounted to a friend all the places we had lived since marrying, and how long now in the Pacific Northwest. “You are like the pioneers,” he said, “who settled here because this is where the wagon wheels fell off.”

I think that’s it. We age and we slow down or find ourselves at last.

“Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.”